The Big Five: Gottman’s Communication Techniques to Talk about Infidelity

talk about infidelity

By Sarah P.

It’s almost always a struggle for couples to communicate about topics that matter to one but not the other, especially if this topic references past hurts. Unfortunately, just talking about such heated topics can cause a fight.

When marriage becomes one fight after another, most couples withdraw from hot topics. After all, who wants to talk about a subject where the mere talking about it leads to a bigger emotional hurt and more misunderstanding?

With this kind of unfortunate luck, couples often end up burying concerns, stewing, or communicating in passive-aggressive ways. When there is infidelity in the picture, this process becomes even more urgent. The topic of infidelity hits too close to home for some partners and each one has a world of hurt associated with the topic.

A wayward spouse might feel guilt, shame and be the object of blame.  He (or she) may not know how to work through these feelings and so this causes him or her to avoid topics. He does not know how to deal with the feelings that are brought out. (Of course, there are wayward spouses who would like to bury the topic for their own selfish purposes. However, I am not referring to these types for this article.)

Such withdrawal causes a betrayed spouse to feel abandoned, unloved, unheard, and unwanted. With each partner feeling so terribly about the topic, how can any positive communications occur? Well, most often positive communications cannot occur within this context.

This leaves a gridlock between spouses, and this gridlock causes more withdrawal, more hurt, more misunderstanding, and more projection of negative motives. The gridlock causes each spouse to go into his (or her) head and tell himself (or herself) an often unhelpful story of what has occurred.

 

The Five Steps to Help You Talk about Infidelity

The Gottman’s have a method of getting through communication gridlock. These Five Steps serve to guide couples toward being understood and heard versus misunderstood and ignored. I have discovered that Gottman Five Steps can also be used to talk about affairs in more productive ways.

The Five Steps are categorized as thus:

  • Feelings
  • Realities
  • Triggers
  • Responsibility
  • Constructive planning

The purpose of working through the Five Steps is to deal with the aftermath of fights or other heated disagreements. The idea is to process past fights and past emotional injuries. Processing something simply means that you can talk about a heated incident without getting back into a fight.

You need to have a conversation about it and both of you need to be emotionally present while having this conversation, rather than being reactive. Exuding such a state of mind is easier said than done. This requires calm and some emotional distance from the incident itself.  

Keep in mind that the goal in processing events is creating greater understanding—that is greater understanding of each other and the other’s viewpoint without being reactive. Even though it is difficult to do, each of you needs to assume that your spouse’s perception of reality has validity. It does not mean that their perception is true for you; it means their perception is true for them. Step into your spouse’s shoes for a moment and take a good look at why your spouse might have a perception that differs from yours.

Pay attention to the common stumbling blocks that occur when you two are talking about a very heated topic. And try to avoid the four Horsemen when you do this process.

The 5 Steps in Detail

Now let’s look at the five steps in more detail: feelings, realities, triggers, responsibility, and constructive plans.

Feelings: Are about reporting how you felt during a particular encounter. When sharing feelings, your spouse needs to listen quietly. Your spouse needs to avoid commenting on your feelings during this process.  They can take notes, but otherwise, they need to witness and listen. Each couple takes a turn at this and the designated topic must remain the focus. Getting off-topic can derail the process.

Realities: Each partner will have the opportunity to describe their own reality in regards to the topic. As each partner listens to the other, each needs to summarize and acknowledge their partner’s reality or interpretation of an event.

Triggers: Each partner will get a turn at sharing the experiences, events, and the memories that are triggering. Neither partner is permitted to judge the other partner’s triggers. Triggers are highly personal and always involve a story. Each partner needs to have an opportunity to tell their story. Since spouse’s are not mind readers, the story of a particular trigger often needs to be told to be understood. Common triggers are dates, life-events, songs, and other reminders of the affair.

Responsibility: This is often the hardest thing for people to do, especially because we live in a society where a victim mentality is encouraged. For a wayward spouse, he (or she) has sometimes convinced himself that he was the victim of an unloving spouse or another external phenomenon. In this way, a wayward spouse can assuage guilt by putting himself in a victim category, even though he finds himself in a situation of his own creating. In this instance, a wayward spouse must take responsibility and may not fall back on excuses or go into denial. A wayward spouse is always responsible for his or her behavior and the choices that he/she has made. When there is an affair, the only real victims are the betrayed spouse and children (or other family members.)

On the other hand, anytime there’s a fight, each spouse will have to take responsibility for their part of the disagreement. During disagreements, both spouses usually engage in bad behavior. While the bad behavior might be heavily skewed toward one spouse, it is usually a two way street. For example, each spouse may engage in one or more of the Four Horsemen. No matter if you are in the position of being a betrayed spouse or in the position of being a wayward spouse, your spouse deserves a minimum level of respect when speaking about hard topics. You will not win any points for name-calling, saying things just to wound the other party, or any other kind of unproductive behavior. This is where taking responsibility for the direction of an argument comes in.

The final of the five steps is to create a constructive plan. Each of you needs to come up with at least one thing to do to make the communication better next time. You need to take a good look at what went wrong and develop a plan that addresses what you will do to prevent it.

Pride: The Great Saboteur

I think one of the biggest hurdles for overcoming infidelity is that one or both partners want to hold on to actual or perceived hurts. Many of us prefer to cling to their hurts rather than moving forward and this seems to be deeply engrained in human nature.

It is hard to stop clinging to hurts because of pride. We all have pride, even if we would like to think we don’t have it. Pride is part of the human condition and pride is different than self-esteem.

Self-esteem comes from a place of positivity. A person with self-esteem knows they are enough, even when they make mistakes. They know that they are enough, regardless of how they look or what others say about them.

Pride comes from a negative place because it is often a cover for an internal suspicion that one is not enough. So, when something happens that shows us we may not be enough, it deeply wounds our pride. Pride comes from a place of false ego.

I like what Wayne Dyer says about ego. He refers to ego as Edging God Out. If you are agnostic, you can change the acronym to Edging Good Out.  This acronym quickly reminds us that with pride, it is an either/or situation. You cannot approach Good while you have pride-based ego. You cannot truly draw closer to your spouse (after an affair) while having a pride-based ego. That is why pride is a big stumbling-block in recovery. It is almost impossible to move forward while holding onto pride; moving forward requires leaving pride behind.

Self-esteem allows you to move forward because you know that your partner’s affair was never about you. Self-esteem allows you to enforce respectful behavior in others. Self-esteem allows you to make decisions based on what it helpful, versus fear-based decisions. (Pride is often responsible for fear-based decisions.)

Just to recap: pride and self-esteem are two different things and they come from two different places. Pride comes from a negative place whereas self-esteem comes from a positive place. Pride is a negative motivator and keeps us stuck, whereas self-esteem allows us to move forward. Pride often makes us say and do very unhelpful things; decisions made based on pride are most often the wrong ones. Decisions made on self-esteem are made from a healthier place.

So how does all of this relate to the Five Steps? Well, I believe that pride is a great saboteur and that is can easily derail any attempt at working through the Five Steps effectively. Pride must be checked at the door (for both spouses) if they want to work through the Five Steps effectively.

On the other hand, please bring your self-esteem along because it will serve as a calming factor that brings clarity.

Finally, before you begin speaking about topics such as infidelity, you need to be clear about what it is you want from the discussion. You have to set yourself up for success if you want to make progress.

When you  talk about infidelity, I would actually recommend talking about one subset of the fallout from the affair, like trust, that bothers you. The second you start talking about the entire affair, you’ve lost focus and all of the hurt pours out. So, the best way to begin is to talk about a sub-issue, such as trust.

Jerry and Jenny

I will provide a fictional example of how a couple named Jerry and Jenny can work through their communication issues using the Five Steps. Trust is the topic they are working on. Jenny is having a hard time trusting Jerry after his affair ended four years ago. Jerry does not understand why Jenny still wants passwords to phones and computers or why Jenny is triggered around certain dates. Jenny has told Jerry that she is still not able to fully trust him. Jerry believes that Jenny should have gone back to fully trusting him a long time ago and does not seem to understand her perspective. Therefore, anytime they talk about the topic of trust, Jerry immediately gets angry and a fight ensues.

From outside the situation, it can be interpreted that Jerry gets angry because he doesn’t want to help Jenny work through trust issues. It may also seem like Jerry wants to hide things. But, is this really what Jerry is doing?

I will describe how Jerry and Jenny can use the Five Steps to talk about trust in a way that does not end in a fight.

Feelings

First, each spouse gets a turn to describe how he or she feels when the topic of trust is brought up. Each spouse must listen to the other without interrupting and without trying to formulate their retort. Each spouse must stay present and serve as a witness to the other’s feelings.

Quite often, sharing how you feel is such an affront to the other partner because they feel guilt. The key here is that you can share how you feel without blaming the other partner.

Don’t accuse your partner of being a terrible or unloving person when you’re bringing up feelings. When you are speaking about an aspect of the affair instead of your spouse, there can be a little bit of emotional distance because there is less of a chance of your spouse feeling accused.

Source: Gottman

The goal here is to get through this first step without any accusations or trying to guilt your partner. Talk about the issue of trust in marriage and not about what the other person did. The other person knows exactly what they did and if you keep rehashing, they might become angrier. Stick to the topic itself, specific behaviors, and to your own feelings.

Here is an example of what Jerry and Jenny could say to each other about their feelings regarding trust.

Jerry: “Any time the issue of trust comes up, I get mad. I don’t know how to help you and this makes me feel more terrible than I already feel.  I get angry so we don’t have to talk about it.”

Jenny: “When you get mad, I feel like you don’t want to do things to help me trust again. Your anger also makes me feel like I am not emotionally safe. I cannot trust anyone when I am in an emotionally unsafe environment. I feel like I hate you during those times.”

Here, Jerry and Jenny talked about their own feelings in response to the situation. Jerry is at a loss on how to help and this drives his anger. Jenny interprets his anger as not wanting to cooperate or help. These misinterpretations on the parts of both create a negative spiral.

Reality

What does this drawing depict?

I wanted to say a little bit about the concept of reality before we jump in. For every event that occurs, no two people share the same perception about the meaning of the situation. Our perception informs our “reality’ of a situation.

The drawing is a perfect example of this principle. One person will tell you that they see an old woman with a large nose. Another person will tell you that they see a youthful woman with her head turned away. Who is correct? Both. Depending on how you look at the drawing, you can see both of these images. Now imagine that you see the older woman and your spouse sees the younger woman, but neither of you sees both. You could argue about this for the next thousand years, should you have the time and inclination.

Differing perceptions, from one person to another or from one spouse to another, are a fact of life. This phenomenon becomes problematic when two people have two different realities regarding the same event. It becomes extremely problematic when adultery is the event. The factual details of the infidelity itself do not change. However, the perceptions of the factual details will be radically different between a wayward spouse and a betrayed spouse.

So, when each spouse states their reality during this exercise, it can almost be guaranteed that the spouse’s realities do not match. When thinking about times of conflict, one spouse may walk away from the conflict feeling as if they unloaded an emotional burden. But, the other spouse may walk away feeling angry and misunderstood. Their realities of the same event are different.

When your spouse is describing his or her reality, you really need to listen. It is time to set judgment aside and take in their perspective, even if you find their perspective completely wrong. Rather than planning what you will say next to counter their perspective, try to figure out why they might have such a perspective.

Note that you will probably find your partner’s feelings irrational and your instinct will be to set the record straight. This is a tricky step because everything within you will want to speak up.

None of us can know precisely what goes on in the minds of our spouse. So, any kind of unfiltered information a spouse gives you (irrational or not) will provide insight into the thought schemas that cause them to behave the way that they do.

Jerry: “When you are always asking about passwords, you are treating me like a child and you are controlling just like my mom. It makes me so angry that you can’t trust me because it has been four years. I don’t understand why time has not healed you and I think you are doing this to punish me. You want to punish me.”

Jenny:  “When you act angry because I am asking about passwords, you obviously have something to hide. It shows you don’t care what you did to me and are planning to do it again. I don’t know why I am such a chump and even try to make it work with someone who I can never trust.”

Here we see that in Jenny’s reality, Jerry is un-trustworthy and hiding important things from her. She is bracing herself for another D-day and is ashamed of herself for staying with someone who is still (in her reality) probably cheating.But, then we look at Jerry’s reality. Jerry is not cheating and Jenny’s need to know passwords reminds him of his controlling mother. He also comes to the conclusion that Jenny is trying to punish him.

No wonder Jerry and Jenny are fighting, right?

Triggers

Usually triggers are something that the betrayed spouse deals with most. (Sometimes the wayward spouse can also deal with triggers and a trigger can cause him to be tempted to go back to an immoral situation.) For this section, we will be focusing on painful triggers that harm the betrayed spouse. Even if there was a significant amount of time between the affair and that person’s immediate reality, a trigger can magically transport them back to the moment when the pain was crushing. Triggers can make a betrayed spouse feel like they are back at square one. For this step, we will be focusing solely on the betrayed spouses pain. Jenny tells Jerry about her triggers:

Jenny: “Every important date or holiday is a trigger; birthdays, trips to Jamaica, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even our anniversary. I cannot forget the fact that you were communicating with the other woman and could stoop so low on such important dates.  Who does that? When I am constantly being reminded that you were untrustworthy in such a huge way. Now every Christmas, birthday, and other important milestone is a reminder of how you broke our marriage vows. I cannot make any headway toward trusting you when constant reminders are all around.”

Source: Gottman

Jenny has told Jerry about the main triggers and explains why certain dates trigger issues with trust.

Responsibility

Now we get to responsibility and this is often the most difficult part of this process. Many times, the wayward spouse does not want to take responsibility for his or her actions. Many wayward spouses are rug sweepers and they will do anything not to talk about their role in the affair.

Some wayward spouses simply believe they were entitled to an affair and this is why they rug sweep. But, most wayward spouses know what they did was wrong and this knowledge causes a tremendous amount of guilt and shame. Wayward spouses don’t like to talk because of how they feel when they realize they were at fault.

Most don’t know how to work through such feelings and therefore prefer to bury them. They also don’t know how to handle what the affair says about them as people. Most people truly believe that they are good people, even if they take concrete action that would demonstrate otherwise.

Having an affair and being a good person don’t go together since good people don’t hurt their spouse in such a life-changing way. Most people want to continue to see themselves as good people and so they blame others for an affair. They don’t want to question their internal narrative because they might realize they are not so good at all. What do you do when you realize you are the bad guy or gal? Most people cannot realize they are the bad guy because it causes an internal crisis. This is especially true of narcissists or those with low self-esteem.

Life is not cut and dry. Sometimes good people get pulled into affairs, but they also usually cut off the affair and take accountability. Formerly good people can make mistakes, especially in midlife crisis situations and they do things that are grossly out of character. But, good people don’t continue on bad paths for long and they own up to their actions.

It is essential that wayward spouses get to the place where they take full responsibility for their affair. This includes taking responsibility for the fallout of the affair.

Then there are the betrayed spouses. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, a betrayed spouse will do or say things that he or she later regrets. The betrayed spouse may say things just to wound the wayward spouse as a way to get back at them. The betrayed spouse must own those times when they are intentionally trying to hurt the wayward spouse as a means of revenge.  Intentionally hurting a wayward spouse does nothing to engender love or affection or create a healing environment.

Of course, people also say hurtful things without intending to do so. It is best that they listen to the wounded spouse explain why such a comment or action was wounding.

Each partner must take a brave look at his (or her) part in this equation. And each partner must take responsibility for his (or her) part. A successful marriage cannot be one where both parties are constantly playing a tit for tat.

Jerry: “I take responsibility for having the affair. Not only was the affair wrong, I take responsibility for all of those emails I sent during the times I should have been fully present with you and our kids. Who does that? Well, I did that and I admit I was a terrible person during that time. I am so very sorry to have hurt you and I will continue to do concrete things to demonstrate to you that I am not that man anymore. You are worth that and so much more. I love you.”

Jenny: “I am sorry that for the times I have called you an idiot, loser, good-for-nothing and a jerk when we fight. It was wrong to intentionally hurt you with those words.”

Constructive Planning

Here is where the rubber hits the road: constructive planning. Each partner needs to develop a realistic plan on how to behave in productive ways the next time around. The plan needs to include both psychological methods on handling the hot topic as well as behavioral methods.

Jerry: “The next time I feel myself flooded with anger, I will ask to take a 15 minute time out. During that time, I will figure out why I am angry and address it. I will listen to your side carefully when we continue our discussion.”

Jenny: “Even if I am hurt, angry, or sad, I won’t call you names or belittle your character. If you are angry and your anger is escalating, I will ask that we both take a 15 minute time out.”

Jenny and Jerry are fictional characters and so this example illustrates how the Five Steps might be used. Nothing goes as well as this in real life. Invariably during this process, there will probably be some disagreement and some starting and stopping. It is likely it will take many tries before you will be able to get through all of the Five Steps. Most of all, this exercise cannot be one-sided and your spouse needs to be fully engaged.

 

Summary

The Five Steps are a framework through which you can process arguments and other regrettable incidents. Like anything in life, working through a new skill involves a learning curve. The Five Steps leverage and build upon communication skills. Communication is key to recovery.

If you want to recover from infidelity, a marriage cannot become a battleground for who is right and who is wrong. Any kind of mudslinging, even in the heat of the moment, is also unproductive because this actually destroys love.

This week, I encourage you to do an assignment of sorts. Pick a topic, such as trust, and use the Five Steps to process it with your spouse. After you do this, I would like to hear how it went and what you learned from it. Tell me all about what went wrong, what went right, and what you learned.

Many blessings to you in the weeks ahead—here is to your recovery.

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31 Responses to The Big Five: Gottman’s Communication Techniques to Talk about Infidelity

  1. TheFirstWife April 18, 2017 at 9:04 pm #

    So how does this work in real life??

    After my H says a few annoying things and makes a joke when I am trying to have a serious conversation I just lose my patience.

    I don’t curse at him or say mean things but he does. I try to explain myself calmly and rationally but I get nowhere.

    He cannot answer a question. His answers are vague. When I quietly say I don’t understand the answer he gets annoyed. At me.

    Of course it is never him. Ever.

    Last week I asked him why he did something I doecifically asked him not to do. Very calm. Rational. Looking for an answer. One of his responses was “am I looking for a fight? “.

    Hold on – he went against my request which was crystal clear. He did something I asked him not to do. I did not get mad. I was calm and just asked why did that occur? Not accusatory.

    And he asks if I am looking for a fight b/c he cannot give a straight answer.

    Seriously I am at my wit’s end here. He says mean things – and my response is just to say well I sm trying to resilve this like an adult but your comments don’t help.

    But one day I will explode and unleash years of anger, betrayal and being treated like a doormat. And I fear it will destroy our marriage.

    So how does this actually work? I have used EVERY suggestion my therapist gave me to avoid conflict. It just doesn’t work with him sometimes.

    My frustration is at an all time high b/c I just cannot communicate with him. He doesn’t have the ability to answer a freakin’ question.

    Scenario : I asked my H to have our son clean one if the cars. Hours later I asked if it was done. He said no because I was about to ask the son to do it but then you came home.

    So I thought about it. What did my arrival home have to do with cleaning the car. It made no sense.

    My comment then was I’m sorry I don’t understand the answer. (Exact words). Csn you explain it? (Exact words).

    Argument ensued. I just tried to tell him how the answer made no sense. He was angry.

    It turns out he meant that when I arrived home they were leaving to go somewhere else and THAT is why the car wasn’t cleaned. Because they were leaving. Not because I arrived home. So he did not clearly answer the question and gets mad at me.

    This is a constant pattern and I am so fed up with it. I have to battle my way through a simple freakin’ question.

    But please don’t tell him the answer is not clear. It just creates more issues b/c he is never wrong!

    • strengthrequired April 20, 2017 at 5:55 pm #

      My ch likes to tell me, no one tells me what to do, no one….. He was never like that, prior to his affair. The thing is, I never tell him what to do.

    • Sarah P. April 22, 2017 at 4:33 pm #

      Hi TFW,

      So what do you suppose this is all about? Why does your husband make a joke when he needs to be serious?

      And what will happen if you unleash years of anger on him? I am not sure it will destroy your marriage, but it might wake him up. What is the worst case scenario if you explode on him?

  2. Shifting Impressions April 20, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

    This is great information, but I don’t know about anyone else…..I was totally shattered upon discovering my husband’s EA. It was all about survival…..I would not have been able to apply those steps in my emotional state.

    By the time you are more ready to apply these principles the CS often “just wants to move on”.

    I think it is easy to cling to the pain of being betrayed but the CS often doesn’t want to face the hurt they have inflicted. I know we only started to move forward, when my husband started show remorse and understanding for the pain he caused.

    Three and a half years after d-day, I am just starting to let go of some of the pain.

    • Sarah P. April 22, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

      Hi Shifting,

      You make a good point. This is probably not an exercise to try when the pain is still so raw. It is probably more effective to use once things have generally calmed down.

      I do not believe a CS should expect a BS to move on. The BS can only move on in his or her own time. So the CS does not have the luxury of telling a BS to move on. It is a long process. The CS made the decision and will have to live with the consequences.

      I am glad that you are starting to let go of some of the pain. It cannot be said enough that an affair is NOT about the betrayed spouse. An affair is about the CS and his own brokenness and/or his lack of making healthy choices during trying times. (Of course this also applies 100% to female CS’s.) Unfortunately, while it is easy to know this intellectually, it is still hard to know this on an emotional level.

      • Shifting Impressions April 22, 2017 at 7:01 pm #

        Isn’t that the truth Sarah P. I know it in my head, but oh try telling that to my heart. How something that isn’t about you can have such impact is something else.

      • bor May 8, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

        Hi Sarah, can you help me with the questions that the therapist is supposed to facilitate the safety and keep us in check? But our therapist said to us that she wil not facilitate the Questions. I had about 93 of them that i have been waiting to ask over a year from the initial 1 1/2 year long EA/PA.plus the two relapses. The last one was august of 2016, She didn’t do anything for 3 months after that as she was not ready to work on the Marriage. I have been waiting for her to do low cost behaviors daily or infrequently, like gratitude notes, calling me when she is late, calling me from work to ask how i am doing simple stuff that most WS do willingly. She basically doesn’t do them but will do what she get the most from which is going places with me and just more physical touches. But not Sex. That is still rut. same night, same time, if she isn’t tired from everything else she has planned. We have tried to get away these last few months because it was after easter last that she went back the second time to contacting him regularly and was talking divorce. So this time of year was really tough for two reasons date, and then easter was so dam late that i got to re-experience it a second time at easter. So she has been trying to help me with these once a month type events, but i really would prefer daily increase contact like she did with her AP. Is there a way to approach the counselor to get the questions asked? None of the question are about the sex they had. Men are good visualizers and knowing for sure will just make it worse. I accused her three times before i had the definite proof of her own emails she described the sex and what she enjoyed about the morning or evening romp. so that put enough PTSD in me to last a lifetime. I tried to organize the questions about when the affair was happening, after it was over, the relapses and about the AP and what role he played. Taken all at once it seems like a huge number but i have not really had many answered other than the basics, who, how long start and end dates of both EA and PA, and how much sex. since d day August of 2015. Any suggestions would be helpful.

        • Sarah P. May 9, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

          Hi Bor,

          I want to help you recover, so please give me some more specifics about how I can help you. When you talk about the questions, I assume you have a question list that you would like to work through, but your therapist doesn’t want to use it in therapy sessions. Is that correct? If so, can you give me some examples of the questions and also why the therapist says they don’t want to work with a list you compiled? You can either answer here or you can email me at sarah.emotionalaffair.org@gmail.com for privacy, if you wish.

          I hope I can work through tis with you.
          Thanks,
          Sarah

  3. Hopefull April 20, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

    I read a lot of Gottman’s books and work. I found it all helpful. For me it has helped more after the initial discovery and pain passed or at least the height of that pain. What I have found is I do follow or try to follow what he advises as much as possible. But what I find the hardest is my husband and even our dynamic slips back. It seems to happen not all the time but often enough. After 25+ years it just seems like it is so easy to slip back into it. In the end I feel like I am the one that is always thinking, providing insights, bringing up concerns. I think in some way it is what you say SI he wants to move on. And it is so much easier if we just let all of these things pass vs working through them. He says as long as I am happy he is happy. And he has never been happier. I could sort of get that if he had a one night stand but he had two affairs at the same time over 10 years. I know they were sporadic but how does that happen and you just say oh well and leave it behind. He is so happy and content to leave that behind and not lead the life he was. He talks of being miserable. That is what bothers me the most. What is wrong with him that he could do that for so long. Again it would suck if he loved the ow or was super happy but it would make more sense to me. Instead he was miserable. He is not one to forget it or not take it into account during our day to day life so I know he does not want to just forget it. I don’t know it is hard to pinpoint.

    • Sarah P. April 22, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

      Hi Hopefull,

      I am wondering if your H was a miserable person (in general) during that time period. So when an affair opportunity came along, he didn’t even try to resist. I also wonder if there was a self-esteem issue.

      But, here is a thought and I don’t think I have ever brought it up before. It is one I will be exploring in the next few weeks (as part of a trauma series)– and the topic is “splitting.” Is your husband one of those people who has a public face and a private face? (I only have one face– I am the same person whether at work or at home behind closed doors.) But many people seem to have different public and private faces. I believe when people do this, they can compartmentalize events easily. If your husband is able to do this then it would explain why he could hide it so well. Do you see any of this in your husband?

      • Hopeful April 23, 2017 at 11:03 am #

        Yes I think this is absolutely true. I think it is split personality plus strong ability to compartmentalize. I think these are traits he had or always has had. The way he describes how he handled anything as a kid. I think it does make him really good at what he does. So that is a positive to it. I have said how this was not mid life crisis at all but I think there was still some sort of cut loose, I do so well everyone should be happy with that, missing the carefree days… so he has said when with his long time friends that he did feel like he could totally be himself. He has told me he was intimidated my circumstances I was not so he did not like going places with me. With his friends he was at total ease. And he was/is the most successful in all areas of his life so I think that contributed. They also go along with what he says. The friend that introduced him to both ow was much lower level and never liked me and thought I was snobby. My husband brushed this off but over time maybe that sank in and fed into his internal insecurities. It is so strange to me since I am very non threatening, kind, the first person to ask others questions and listen. But in this case coming from where I grew up, having a college degree, a good job, not being irresponsible made me a snob. I think all of the people he surrounded himself with made him feel better about himself even not including th affairs. They drank more than him, golfed more, went on more trips, spent less time with their kids…I could go on and on.

        The good news is he sees it differently now. He describes that once he went down that path it was over. And it was a slippery slope. He thought if he told me he would lose me and the kids. He ended both affairs about 15 months before dday since he said he hated himself so much. He knew he could not live that way. Who knows what would have happened without dday. What I find most interesting is watching him balance what he wants and figuring out how to do that since he has changed and his friends have not. I did not expect this to be so hard for him and really it seems more difficult. He has made drastic changes in his life and behaviors ans stuck to them but lots more to get through.

        Last thing is he stands by the fact that his main goal is to live a transparent and authentic life. He says since dday that I could be next to him at all times and I would not be bothered by any behaviors, things he has said or written. It has been over two years and I have seen nothing to say he is not being truthful so we are gradually building our trust. And I have told him at this point it is not worry over cheating at all it is about the quality and type of marriage/relationship that I want and desire that matters most to me. It is not enough to just not cheat.

        • Shifting Impressions April 23, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

          Hopeful
          You are so right…it is not enough to just not cheat!!!

          • Hopefull April 24, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

            This really has been my newest revelation. After going through all of this pain since dday but honestly the 10+ affair years too I will not just go along with whatever. I gave him plenty of years of trusting him, telling him to do what he wants, working so hard on our marriage, being a great mom, on and on. But now I want more and I am not going to settle. i would honestly be alone than to feel unhappy.

            • Shifting Impressions April 24, 2017 at 8:40 pm #

              That statement just hit me rather hard. I need to ask for more as well. Sometimes I am just worn out from it all and I just don’t want to rock the boat as things are going”relatively well”.

              If I am honest “relatively well” isn’t really good enough.

              • Hopefull April 26, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

                SI, Exactly!!! I think after the initial pain and then working on recovery I was thinking shouldn’t I be happy? Honestly I wasn’t that happy. It felt the same as when he was having the affairs with maybe a little bit more verbal attention and attentiveness in general. So I did expect more and explained to my husband what we had was not the standard I want and need more. Now though I have really come around to this idea of I need to determine and decide what type of marriage/relationship I want. You are right relatively well is not good enough. And every day will not be unicorns and rainbows but overall there should be more. I love asking my husband open ended questions now. It really helps get to these points. And about us or when we do things together. Very interesting.

  4. Ann April 21, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    How does this work when you spend an hour spilling your feelings to your husband, and after that hour, instead of acknowledging your feelings, accuses you of something obscure just so he can blame shift? My counselor said not to hold back, to tell him what I feel, but I will NEVER do that again. How does it work when he gives you a $300 bottle of Chanel and then says when you wear it, it reminds him of his 400-lb ex girlfriend so he hates it? How does this work when you spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day making 3 meals and doing all the family gifts by yourself, but then Christmas night, lying in bed exhausted, he screams at you for not wanting sex? How does this work when he doesn’t think going on lunch and coffee dates for 2 years with a woman wasn’t really “dates” even though I never knew about it? How does this work when he has an online sexting thing with his FIRST COUSIN and you don’t find out about it til it’s over and you get to read all the sordid emails? How does this work when you cannot get an apology for anything he has put you through?? But then sends you articles about relationship crap? That’s right. It doesn’t.

    • TheFirstWife April 22, 2017 at 5:07 am #

      Hi Ann. I am so sorry for you. That doesn’t sound like a marriage but a living nightmare you just cannot wake up from each night.

      I just don’t understand why your H doesn’t get it. Why he believes he can continue to treat you this way.

      It appears he has no accountability or remorse. It appears he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with his choices.

      I had the same situation as you. 4 year EA my H had – denied everything. But then he acknowledged to his last OW that it did in fact occur (which she told me). So the 4 year EA was wrong and he knew it but yet didn’t care enough about our marriage to stop it. Just flaunted it in my face.

      His last affsir that almost led to our divorce changed everything.

      I took control of me and our relationship.

      I have all my power back. And I no longer worry about him leaving me. Because he is no longer my 100% focus.

      I no longer do his laundry. I don’t pick up his dry cleaning. I only offer my help if I can and when I want to. I do not feel obligated to be the “good wife”. I go to events without him when I want. I volunteer for things that make me happy. I don’t worry about pleasing him.

      I make sure I please him.

      Because after 25+!years of marriage I realize he is selfish and a coward. Not the person I believed him to be.

      He is not my “go to” person. Not any more.

      But I give him credit because HE FINALLY gets it. He understands what he did and tries every day to make amends. It has not been easy to redefine our marriage.

      And yes he makes mistakes but at least he tries.

      Msybe if your H thought for one minute You would leave him, it could change your dynamics. B/c it sounds as though he has no remorse and just expects life to go on as it was.

      That is how my H thought it would go. Until I changed. And started throwing my weight around and getting what I wanted. Not selfish, not mean but changing the dynamics yi make sure I come first sometimes.

      • Ann April 25, 2017 at 12:49 am #

        I think these are great ideas. You know, there are so many opinions about why are you staying married. Well, we all have our own reasons, don’t we? It’s complicated. But I think your ideas of doing your own thing are great. Over the last year, he has taken to screaming at me and having a tantrum. Last time he did that in September, I looked him straight in the eye and calmly said, “Keep going. I’m out the door. You don’t scare me. ” And I took the dog and left. He ran outside and screamed up and down the street, embarrassing himself in front of the neighbors. I came back about 3 hours later and he was in bed. I locked myself in the guest room. The next day? No apology, but it’s the last time he ever did it. I know it is abuse. I am prepared to leave should it happen again.

    • Sarah P. April 22, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

      Hi Ann,

      I am very sorry to hear about your situation and I don’t think the Gottman 5 Steps can work for your situation. Here is why: There is so much more going on here than just an affair. When I write these articles, it is generally with the assumption that there are no huge deal-breakers in a marriage. Deal-breakers include: diagnosable narcissism, addiction, and sexual deviancy.

      Your husband’s behavior indicates that there will never be any insight or healing. Most of all, I would ask yourself if you really want to stay in a marriage where your husband exchanges sexts with anyone, let alone a first cousin. Just the fact that he does this indicates there is a much larger problem with him and he will be unable to be a decent life partner.

      While I do not know him and have not evaluated him, I am picking up on behaviors both indicative of narcissism and sexual addiction. It is impossible to have any kind of meaningful or nurturing relationship when you are married to someone with these issues. Has your therapist ever noticed narcissistic and addictive behaviors? If so, what has she said to do?

      I am sorry to say that I really think there is a bigger problem than an affair here. Regardless of him being a narcissistic or addict, it is clear he is unable to give you the love that you deserve– at least for the moment. Can you tell me about what he was like before this EA and before sexting with his cousin? Was he a great husband before all of this?

      Ann, I am so sorry you are going through all of this. I hope that you are able to find some solace.

  5. TheFirstWife April 22, 2017 at 5:09 am #

    Shoukd be I make sure I please me.

    • Shifting Impressions April 22, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

      TFW….you had me wondering on that one…Lol!!!!!

  6. TryingHard April 24, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    Hi Hopeful–your comment got me thinking. These friends that your husband hangs with sound like they are at a different socio/economic level than he. As I am certain the OW were as well. He says he’s at ease with them, more like himself. Do think part of his feelings of being himself and at ease with them is because he knows he’s better than them in some ways adding to his sense of superiority and power over them? He’s the king in their eyes or si he thinks?

    Does this make sense to you? I see my husband morph into king when he’s around people he believes he is better than by his merely perceived class level. I know this is what he found attractive in his OW. She has much much less than we on may levels. Picture mouthy bartender who knows how to flirt for a good tip!!

    If this is part of his persona this perceived superiority is a big ego boost for them. This is taught when they are children. And I think many men who are competitive love to have this upper hand socially and personally. Of course he kept the affairs secret. Because he values you as his equal. He needs you but he liked that ego boost the adoring OWs showed and his friends.

    My h lives to associate with guys of higher means but really gets an ego boost by those who adore him that have less power than him.

    He needed me for the public face and private face. I gave him legitimacy. But the OW served his darker side. And cheaters all have darker sides. But I think this case applies to men I’m sorry to say. Women cheat but not for power over others. They cheat for different reasons. I think this is only one aspect that contributes to males that cheat. I believe they are just more innately competitive and some thrive on being perceived as king of the jungle!!

    Of course they can compartmentaluze this. It’s ingrained and have been doing it for a long time. I’m not saying all men do this but I believe some men who cheat have this as part of their motivation to cheat. It’s also why I believe these men need to be humbled. They need to be knocked off their perceived pedestal. Because really they are NOT better than anyone. It’s a false mask they wear.

    I’m curious. Does he put down others as being less than what he believes he is? Is he racist or sexist? Does he ridicule poor people or uneducated? I’m just trying to be provocative and not judging. These are things I look for in my husband and I think it’s something to be aware of about a person.

    Geez it gets tiring figuring out their fuckupedness!!

    • Hopefull April 24, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

      TryingHard, You have it exactly right with this group of friends an the ow. He and they totally view themselves and their dynamic this way. It has always been this way and it remains this way. He has other groups of friends but I would say they are more in line with him achievement wise and socioeconomic at least. I would not say their behavior is better but he met the two ow through the first group that is is the king of. Interesting. And yes both ow were lower level. The one he said he would be mortified if anyone knew, she is a horrible person, low level. The other one in the past a friend asked him whatever happened to that weird woman that was always trying to hang around us. He did not even remember her name. So no these ow are nothing great. I do not get the impression that they wanted anything more than a fling from him but hard to know since he ended both 15 months before dday. The one ended really dicey but he said he could not continue. The other one could care less. All so odd.

      My husband is not racist, sexist, and does not put others down. He is not that way at all. But the friend dynamic for sure is in place exactly as you stated.

      • TryingHard April 24, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

        OK well that is fitting with my thought process.

        I think when he is with the others friends who are at his same level of education and finance he is still in competition with them. Sounds like things came pretty easy for him when he was growing up. Big man on campus even. So this role he takes on as king of the jungle comes natural to him.

        Getting that ego boost from the others, whom he sees as less than, is like going for the low hanging fruit!!! Both male and female. There will always be boot lickers in this world. Geez I know many!! But in reality he loves having you in his life because A. You are a challenge and B. you give him the integrity and respect he needs.

        I wonder if he would ever discuss this with you and if he thinks this might be part of his persona? Maybe you could bring it up by asking about his professional thoughts on this and NOT make it personal? I’m curious now. Haha and you know what they say curiosity killed the cat—MEOW!!!!

        • Hopefull April 26, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

          My therapist and I totally agree with all you are saying. This is totally at the root of all of this. I also think this is why he had his affairs earlier. No mid life crisis here. But I think all these areas he excelled in were not important anymore and at odds with the job, wife, kids etc. We are not that much fun etc.So I do think that is why this hit him earlier. There is no real other childhood reason besides being entitled which goes along with this somewhat in our culture.

          And yes there will always be someone even if they don’t want much out of it. I still think what is wrong with these women that the spent 10 years of their lives seeing him randomly?? I mean how miserable. And both were sporadic. It is just so odd. Lots of messed up people out there.

          We have discussed this topic the two of us and he has opened up more about memories he has that I can totally see shaped him. I have also brought up that he must even subconsciously select friends that support this dynamic. His friends even the more affluent all fall on a very narrow part of the continuum. He says those are the people I made friends with. But the one who introduced him to both ow I mean was so low level. And he admits it. But why did he hang out with him, feel bad for him, support him. And I know that friend said less than favorable things about me and did not want to be with me. He is no longer around so that has been a nice clean break. We cannot go and undo the past but we are working through balancing this dynamic. One thing is my husband has changed so much and his friends of course are the same. It makes things interesting and keeps us working at all this.

          • Sarah P. April 27, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

            Hi Hopefull,

            Just wanted to chime in here. I can relate to a lot of what you say– I can picture it. I can imagine that in person you are very well put together, classy, nice, friendly but not the saccharine-sweet extrovert with a false face, and you are also attractive. This can cause others who don’t relate to this or possess such qualities to feel insecure– both men and women. You are not actively judging anyone or doing anything judgmental. But there will always be people out there who get offended by you just being you because they feel they cannot be that person. His male friend who said you were a snob was probably actually insecure because he knew on a subconscious level, he could never marry anyone like you– and that knowledge made him feel even more insecure and he displaced his uneasiness by blaming you and not confronting his own internal troubling feelings. It’s easier to blame you even though you did NOTHING wrong.

            As for your H, I have observed there are men out there who, on a subconscious level, have a split between the person they want to marry and the person with whom they can have a raunchy and very dysfunctional time. They will only marry the woman who makes them look good to others and who brings out their best. They marry a woman who will be the best mom, the wife who throws the best dinner parties, who is stable and emotionally mature, and who causes others to think highly of him because of who she is. But there is still a very unconscious dark side where the bad girl has allure. It makes no sense logically and yet it’s easy to see from the outside looking in. Frankly, I don’t know why it happens because there are too many psychological and perhaps physiological nuances that create this split. Perhaps your husband was one of those people but was not aware of it.

            I could be COMPLETELY WRONG here. You are the expert. Does any of it resonate?

  7. TheFirstWife April 24, 2017 at 11:26 am #

    I also think in my H’s case that he had only one girlfriend before me. And he was good looking but shy with girls.

    So he got some confidence after we married and he started working in a corporate job and lots of attention from women …….an ego boost.

    And it morphed from there. EAs and affairs and all done for his own satisfaction.

    Plus sometimes I think they start to view the wife as being similar to their mother. And that adds a level of crap to the marriage b/c they cannot do what they want 100% of the time due to family and responsibility .

    It just makes things so complex.

    • Hopefull April 24, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

      My husband was the opposite. He had constant attention from girls and women. Always did. Even in high school. He had many girl friends, nothing super serious before me but not him at all.

  8. TryingHard April 24, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    TFW–Yes, being Mom in the marriage is a terrible role. I never intentionally played that role. I never gave ultimatums or orders or restrictions. I never punished.

    Playing Mom is an easy role to slip into without doing all the above things and I think I did by being TOO good to him. I made his life wayyyy to easy. I was at home. I thought it was my job but when I worked I would beat my ass home to get a “balanced” dinner on the table not expecting him to lift a finger. He did nothing around the house but cut the grass. I did the rest and I think I probably did fit that Mom role in his eyes. LOL all it takes is one affair to say “Eff this!!!” While I loved taking care of our home and him let’s just say things have changed!

    However, I still don’t make demands that he do something or is not allowed to do anything. He’s free, healthy and over 21 he’s free to do as he pleases! So am I.

    • TheFirstWife April 24, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

      Trying Hard. BA (before affair) I was like you. Did a lot and made his life easy. Yes to golf outings, yes to playing basketball Saturday morning, yes to guys night out, etc. he worked hard and deserved some free time.

      Now? He has his own laundry to do and his own errands. I don’t bend over backwards like I used to – it was apparently unappreciated so why bother now?

      I finally wised up

    • Sarah P. April 27, 2017 at 6:18 pm #

      Hi TFW,

      What’s interesting is a wife is expected to be all things: a great mom to children, a great wife who cooks and cleans, and then a rabid vixen in the bedroom. All three cannot be sustained over any real time period after kids are born. So, a wife is scrambling to be everything for everyone and falls short. As I say to my family, “Please help, I only have two hands.” I am the only one who walks and take scare of our elderly dog, the ones who does home-cooked meals, does homework with the kids, sings the bedtime songs (original compositions I wrote for them alone), supervises the bath of the younger one, makes sure they have everything they need for any extracurricular activities, takes care of boo-boos etc etc etc. And of course I am always very loving. But oftentimes three things come up at once and since there is one of me, I get spread thin. Then there are the duties involving parents who need assistance due to aging. (And yes, I take this job seriously and do anything and everything for my folks who live 10 minutes away.)

      I think all women deal with this. When it happens, men see a “mom” and not a wife. So when the OW comes along, she is an escape into a fantasy world. There are no boo-boos, no kids who just had a nightmare crawling between you at night. There are romantic dinners at nice restaurants. There is uninterrupted sex. There is no cleaning. No chores. Everyone is on their best behavior. There is lingerie and thing underwear. There is the flattery the OW provides in order to fool the guy into leaving his wife. Because really, I don’t know of a long-term other woman out there who just wants a no-strings-attached fling even if they say so. Deep down, most women want security and bonding. So this is a lure they use. Then there is the worst part– the heady neuro-chemical cocktail. It’s a drug more powerful than any other. And like all drugs, it wears off. But the mystery, fantasy, and secretive nature give this drug a long half-life– several years. And families are blown apart.

      I agree TFW that you need to make YOU happy. All of us should make ourselves happy affair or no affair. And when I say happy, I am not talking about being selfish. I am talking about pursuing things that regenerate our souls.

      Sarah

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